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Shock Cities

The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago

Shock Cities is environmental history of the highest order. This searching work is the first trans-Atlantic study to examine the industrial city in holistic terms, looking at the transformation of its land, water, and air. Harold L. Platt demonstrates how the creation of industrial ecologies spurred the reorganization of urban areas into separate spheres, unhealthy slums in the center and garden estates in the suburbs. By comparing Chicago and Manchester, Platt also shows how the ruling classes managed the political creation of urban space to ensure financial gain—often to the environmental detriment of both regions.

Shock Cities also recasts the age of industry within a larger frame of nature. Frightening epidemics and unnatural "natural disasters" forced the city dwellers onto the path of environmental reform. Crusaders for social justice such as Chicago’s Jane Addams and Manchester’s Charles Rowley led class-bridging campaigns to clean up the slums. Women activists and other "municipal housekeepers" promoted regulations to reduce air pollution. Public health experts directed efforts to improve sanitation.

Out of these reform movements, the Progressives formulated new concepts of environmental conservation and regional planning. Comparing the two cities, Platt highlights the ways in which political culture and institutions act to turn social geography into physical shapes on the ground. This focus on the political formation of urban space helps illuminate questions of social and environmental justice. Shock Cities will be of enormous value to students of ecology, technology, urban planning, and public health in the Western world.

592 pages | 7 halftones, 20 line drawings, 27 maps, 13 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Chicago and Illinois

Geography: Urban Geography

History: American History, British and Irish History, Urban History


"Urban environmental history has now reached the stage where it needs more transnational studies, and Platt’s comprehensive and detailed account of the environmental transformation of Manchester and Chicago shows the value of taking such an approach."

Stephen Mosley | Urban History

"Thoroughly researched, deeply reflective, and sophisticated."

Jeffrey K. Stine | Isis

"By sorting out what is unique and what is held in common in Chicago and Manchester, Platt advances the discussion of industrialization and urban growth in the late 1800s."

Burton W. Folsom Jr. | American Historical Review

"This is at one level a specific study of two cities, Chicago and Manchester. On another level, it is about the inevitable confrontation with nature that occurs in all cities as they grow and evolve. . . . An impressive, comprehensive examination of two multi-faceted dynamic urban systems during their most dramatic periods of growth and urbanization. Platt leaves no aspect unconnected to the whole."

Randall Partlett | The Historian

"By putting questions of social and environmental justice at the center, Platt does an exemplary job of uncovering the cultural and political construction of physical space in these two revolutionary cities."

Matthew Osborn | Journal of Social History

"Platt has written the definitive account of industrialization, transformation, and reform in each city during the 1800s, while demonstrating the remarkable insights to be gained through comparative history. . . .Depth and insight make Shock Cities a model for urban environmental historians. . . . An exhaustive analysis, with implications far beyond 19th century Manchester and Chicago."

Stephen Bocking | Urban History Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Part One - Creating Industrial Ecologies
1. Introduction: The Industrial City and the Paradox of Progress
2. "They Are All Little Manchesters"
3. Mudhole in the Prairie
4. "A Fountain Inexhaustible": Chicago and Environmental Profligacy
5. "The Hardest Worked River": Manchester and Environmental Catastrophe
6. The Technological Construction of Industrial Ecologies
7. The Social Construction of Industrial Technology
Part Two - Reforming Industrial Cities
8. Introduction: Public Health and the Politics of Environmental Reform
9. The Environmental Justice Movement in Manchester
10. The Environmental Justice Movement in Chicago
11. "Monstrous Waste": Water Supply in Chicago and Manchester
12. "Clever Microbes": Sanitation Science in Manchester and Chicago
13. "Invisible Evil": Pollution and Class Politics in Manchester
14. Visible Smoke: Pollution and Gender Politics in Chicago
15. Conclusion: Machine Age Cities


Portico Library & Gallery: Portico Prize for Literature

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